By RIA TAITT
Roman Catholic Archbishop Edward Gilbert yesterday deplored the fact that everything in this country was viewed in terms of race. Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Archbishop Gilbert held a reconciliation meeting at Whitehall yesterday, at which Manning "graciously accepted" Gilbert's apology for the "precipitous" statement of the CSJ. The statement, which criticised Government's handling of the CJ issue and which provoked a furore, was eventually retracted by Gilbert. Commenting on the controversy caused by the statement issued by the Commission for Social Justice (CSJ), Gilbert said that one of the things people in this country had to do was respect each other. "In my view there is too much racism. Everything is racial.
Everything is viewed through the prism of race and it separates us. We have to respect each other as we are, and when we disagree with each other, which is inevitable, we have to do that in a respectful way. And the church has to model this," he stated. Asked if he thought the response to Ramdeen was based on race, he said his personal opinion was that "after the statement was made and explained, the residue was all race. I can't prove that, but that is my opinion," he said. It was Ramdeen's aggressive defence and justification of the original CSJ statement in the face of the public outcry and her combative stance on national television and radio which really infuriated many people. As the dust settled on the issue yesterday, Manning appealed for "compassion" (for Ramdeen) while Gilbert argued that if he "eliminated" everyone around him who made mistakes, nobody would be left. "And I think it is very important to remember that," he said, adding that he now considered the matter closed.
He said Ramdeen knew that he would not accept her resignation, and knew that he was supportive of her "because she was under a lot of pressure." "It is unfortunate that people have been spitting at her in the streets and calling her names in the streets, and things like that." He said he was certain that some of the Catholics who were involved in this would regret their actions after the emotions subside. Manning, who thanked Gilbert for his "prompt and vigorous response," noted: "All of us err from time to time and I should know that more than anybody else. We must always bring the spirit of compassion in our judgment and handling of issues." Saying that he was under no illusions (about getting everybody to accept this position), Gilbert said he found that when you tell people the truth and you respect them, most of them would respond positively." He added that there had already been a shift on the calls coming into his office and into the CSJ from negative to positive.
Gilbert said his style was that he would much rather "work the phones in the background than make a lot of statements." "I would prefer to call the Prime Minister on the phone than to call a press conference," he said. He has made three major statements since assuming office as Archbishop - on AIDS, sexual scandals in the church, and the last statement on the CJ issue. He said he believed that if an Archbishop made too many statements he would be regarded like anybody else. "But if you time them (your statements) correctly and you prepare them properly, you will get people to listen," he said. He said he had no intention of changing this style since it had worked for him.
Noting that the Holy See will be releasing the English edition of the social justice compendium at the end of next month, Gilbert said the church will be talking out on many issues. "However when we talk we have to have our facts straight and our tone respectful," he said. Asked why he described the CSJ statement as precipitous, he said: "I thought that there was no hurry. I don't know why it couldn't have waited until I returned. I think we all agree that the Executive and Judiciary branches should be separate. Nobody is arguing with that point so I didn't see what the rush was. And I thought that the use of the term 'plot,' which you know was a political term which is being bandied about, was certainly improper in a church statement."
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